On any given day, Pakistan tops the list of states on crisis alert. But this week has been rocky in the south Asian country, even by that low standard. On Monday, the country's government looked like it might imminently fall; the prime minister's ruling coalition shattering as its second-largest party pulled out. Then on Tuesday, one of the country's most moderate politicians -- Punjab Governor Salman Taseer -- was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards.
So it's perhaps not surprising why some in Pakistan are looking with a bit of nostalgia to the government of former president and military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who ruled the country for nine years. Musharraf, who has been in a self-imposed exile in London since 2009, has leaped at the chance to come back to politics, announcing on Jan. 3 that he'll be back in Pakistan with his newly formed political party in time for the next round of elections. Late last year, prior to his announcement, Foreign Policy spoke with the former president about what he would do, if given a second shot at ruling Pakistan. Excerpts:
Foreign Policy: You once said that being in charge of Pakistan may well be "the hardest job in the world." But you have just announced that you are going back into politics. Why?
Pervez Musharraf: [It's about offering] another alternative to the people of Pakistan. At this moment, they are stuck between two alternatives: the [ruling] People's Party and PML-N, the party of former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. If you look at both of them, [they are] dysfunctional.
I call Nawaz Sharif a closet Taliban. He's a man who is -- who has been -- in contact with Taliban. He is a man who, today, appeases the clerics and mawlawis [Sunni Islamic scholars] -- the extremists. Moreover, he has tried [his hand at leadership as prime minister] twice in the past -- and he has failed. Why are we giving him a third chance to destroy Pakistan? My new party is an alternative to the people of Pakistan with the hope of changing the conditions of the people of Pakistan and the state.
At this moment, there is such hopelessness, and there is such a sense of despondency in the people of Pakistan. It's worrisome. People are quitting Pakistan. They want to leave the country. There's a leadership vacuum, and no political party has the wherewithal to meet this challenge. What I've done really is to present to the people of Pakistan with "here's another, an alternative." [And] I have been tested also for nine years.
FP: Why should Pakistanis give you another chance if they weren't happy with you at the end of your presidency?
PM: I came into office on a very high pedestal; people wanted a change. Until 2007, I was very popular. And now with the situation that Pakistan is facing, my [favorability] graph has again gone up. Because Pakistanis now see what is happening. The poor man is seeing what is happening. Essential items' prices have gone up about four to five times [since I left office]. Wheat flour, rice, and pulses [legumes] -- everything is now five times higher. People have realized what has hit them. And a lot of people are calling me back, [saying] they want me back to save Pakistan. If you see my Facebook [page], which I launched eight months back, I have a fan [base] of 350,000 now today.